"Mindfulness and Meditation allow us to open our hearts, relax our bodies, and clear our minds enough to experience the vast, mysterious, sacred reality of life directly. With Practice we come to know for ourselves that eternity is available in each moment.

Your MMM Courtesy Wake Up Call:
Musings on Life and Practice
by a Longtime Student of Meditation

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Two Out of the Three Ain't Bad

“Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness.  If, in our heart, we still cling to anything - anger, anxiety, or possessions - we cannot be free.”
-- Thich Nhat Hanh

We are one blink of an eye away from being fully awake.”
― Pema Chödrön

 Being sick is no fun.  

Last week was a doozy.  Rather than enjoy the delightful energy of three cherubic granddaughters for the entire five day visit to ChicagoLand, I spent two of those days sequestered in the basement, laying in a makeshift bed coughing and wheezing. 

There was no doubt about it.  I was sick.

I still am.

After a long travel day and two more solid days of rest here at hOMe, I was able to stay upright for several hours the next day with only occasional bouts of coughing.   Yet, even after another week, I'm not yet back to "normal".   At age 71, the realities of old age, illness and death that led young Siddhartha to turn his back on worldly power and pleasure to seek the Truth as a wandering ascetic are a part of my direct experience in many mind moments here again today.  

Yet, although it's true that I'm an ailing old coot at the moment, I can say in all honesty: I'm just fine!  In this case, two out of three ain't bad.  It sure as hell beats hitting the Trifecta, right?  I'm still Alive!  As I sit here upright at the laptop, aware of my breathing, aware of my body, I feel deep gratitude and even a touch of joy as the hiss of tires on the rain slickened road outside the window emerges and dissolves into the vast stillness that embraces the magic of the present moment.  

I blame that on Practice.  I wouldn't be here without it.  

All the Difference in the World

For most of my life,  I've hated being sick.  As well as the discomfort of the various symptoms, I would invariably experience a lot of frustration and anger.  It was a double whammy.  Feeling lousy sucked.  Not being able to do what I wanted to do sucked.  I was miserable about feeling miserable.  Although my body needed rest, I couldn't.  
Yet, as the years have rolled on and Practice has deepened, I can honestly say that things have shifted.  This time around, I've rested for days.  Although, admittedly, I relied on re-runs of Monk (a comedy-mystery series involving a detective with OCD named Adrian Monk, not an ordained monastic) to structure some of my time during the course the past week, I also spent a great deal of downtime just laying still and devoting my attention to breathing, being aware of the sensations of my body, and watching various thoughts come and go within the limitless space of awareness. 

One day,  I even created my own sickday"retreat schedule." It began with my usual one hour morning of sitting meditation, then continued with alternating equal periods of Monk and laying down Meditation for the rest of the day, taking breaks to eat and nap, etc.   (I don't know, if any Zen master would have been pleased, but it worked just fine for me. )

Friday, January 19, 2018

Keeping It Real

"Truth is by nature self-evident. As soon as you remove 
the cobwebs of ignorance that surround it, it shines clear...
All that I can, in true humility, present to you is that Truth is not to be found by anybody who has not got an abundant sense of humility."
-- Mahatma Gandhi

“Meditation is the only intentional, systematic human activity which at bottom is about not trying to improve yourself or get anywhere else, 
but simply to realize where you already are.”
―John Kabat-Zinn,  Wherever You Go, There You Are

Although I haven't seen him in awhile, and the entire course of our friendship emerges from a couple of handfuls of conversations at an upstairs table at the Coop, I still consider Gary to be one of my most valuable co-conspirators. 

A few times during our first conversations, Gary had challenged me to clarify what had slipped out of my mouth -- often as a quip or facetious comment. (It seems I often default to my youthful personality as a Chicago street kid, a wannabe wise guy, the perennial, if not all that proficient, class clown)  

I've learned.  

In Gary's presence, I always have to be ready to pay attention.  Lord knows, he does.  Whether we were talking Coop Policies (he sits on the Board), world events, or spirituality, I have to stay Present, ready to engage in a sincere, shared exploration about the truth of the matter at hand. 

With Gary, I can't be sloppy. I have to be careful with my words, precise about what I think I know -- and don't know.  I imagine sitting with Gandhi would be something like that.

In one of our interactions, Gary thanked me for the fundraising effort I'd made a on behalf of two friends, codgers like myself, who were facing eviction as a result of ill health and their extended unemployment benefits being cut by the Republican-controlled US Congress.

When Gary first brought up the topic, my first reaction was a subtle feeling of fear in my solar plexus.  The week before, with my heart in my throat, I had bombarded each and every one on my email contact list, google+ circles and Facebook friends with that fundraising appeal not once, but twice. Even though I had feared that some folks may roll their eyes or maybe even get pissed at me for this blatant appeal -- I had done it anyway. Trying to help out a couple of folks in need felt that important to me.

When I told Gary about that fear, that I was set to apologize for bothering him, he said "No, It's okay man. Thanks for keeping it real." 

Saturday, January 13, 2018

The End Game

"Healing is bringing mercy and Awareness 
into that which we have held in judgment and fear."
-- Stephen Levine,  
Who Dies?: An Investigation of Conscious Living and Conscious Dying

"At a fundamental level we can acknowledge hardening; 
at that point we can train in learning to soften. 
It might be that sometimes we can acknowledge but we can’t do anything else, 
and at other times we can both acknowledge and soften. "
-- Pema Chödrön, 
"Signs of Spiritual Progress", Lion's Roar

It seems that the death of my friend and CircleMate, Danny Cruz this past month was the harbinger of things to come.  Since then there have been more deaths and diagnoses of life-threatening illness among my circle of friends and their friends.

Sometimes, life is like that.  

In fact, when you take the long view, life is always like that.  As Suzuki Roshi once said, " Life is like stepping onto a boat that is about to sail out to sea and sink."  The moment we are born, we're headed on a trajectory that ends in death.  Although what happens at the end point is a Grand Mystery, one thing is pretty obvious:  Life itself is a terminal condition.   

Yet, in mainstream society today, it seems that most of us assiduously avoid bringing that aspect of the journey into the our awareness.  Until our boat (or that of a loved one) sinks, or is about to sink, we don't seem to want to rock that boat -- and face that sinking feeling that may emerge.  

Yet, it seems clear that death is an integral part of the fabric of life.  Until we actually face death's inevitablity, we may not be able to engage our lives fully and directly with an open heart and clear mind.  We'll always be somewhat haunted, skating over the thin ice of our own subconscious fear of one of the truths of our existence. IMHO, this is no way to live.

Buddhism makes no bones about this.  

If you are going to perceive the truth of our existence, death has to be acknowledged.  In the Theravadan tradition, Asian teachers still cite the Satipatthana Sutta of the Pali Canon and send monks off to meditate on corpses at the charnel grounds as a practice.  That may be a bit hard core for Western practitioners who, unlike their Asian counterparts, are generally shielded from the reality of death and dying.  Yet, even the Mahayana traditions that practice here in the West call for some focus on death.  A recognition of the inescapability of death is one of the Four Reminders in the preliminary contemplations seen as necessary to begin the Lojong Trainings of Tibetan Buddhism.  The inevitability of death is also one of the Five Remembrances chanted regularly in Zen services.  

So what is the deal here?  Why is an awareness of our inevitable demise so important?

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Sacred Space

"When we are mindful, deeply in touch with the present moment,
our understanding of what is going on deepens, 
and we begin to be filled with acceptance, joy, peace and love.”

― Thích Nhất Hạnh

“Delight in itself is the approach of sanity. Delight is to open our eyes 
to the reality of the situation rather than siding with this or that point of view.”
― Chögyam Trungpa, The Myth of Freedom and the Way of Meditation

When I was growing up, being called a "space cadet" was usually not a good thing.   Unless you were in the astronaut training program at NASA (or, perhaps, a Trekkie), being called a space cadet was a put-down.  It generally meant that you had a hard time staying in touch with what most people called"reality".  A space cadet tended to drift off somewhere quite often, not paying much attention to the seemingly endless concerns and hassles of the "real world". 

Although I didn't realize it at the time, it's obvious that these space cadets, marching to the beat of a different drummer, had a leg up on the rest of us.

Being conditioned in the rat race of the modern world, our legs were usually fully engaged spinning the hamster wheel in an invisible, but very captivating, mind cage that most people call "the real world."  Wrapped up in our thoughts about doing it right, going for the gold, being all we can be, etc., most of us were continually scrambling to get with the program.  The space cadet seemed not to take all that so seriously.  He or she would frequently step off the mainstream merry go round to see what else was happening, relaxing into an "inner realm" that apparently seemed much more interesting.

These days, I choose to do something like that most every day for at least an hour.  I've signed on for the voyage and would gladly accept the title of space cadet.   I've found that "inner space" is the final frontier.  Some folks call what I do meditation.

Spending time examining the nature of mind and exploring what had previously been subconscious, I've seen directly that there is a whole lot more to reality than meets the eye -- or at least the two eyes we generally have been trained to use in the conventional way.  ( I won't get into a discussion of third eyes, supernatural vision, and Visions here, but...)

Monday, January 1, 2018

Practice: It's Positively Habit Forming!

"Spiritual practice, exactly like training in a gym, takes time and effort. Just as there are stationary bicycles, treadmills, weight machines, and other devices, so in spiritual practice there is prayer, meditation, ritual, study, and other techniques."
-- Zoketsu Norman Fischer

"Every moment is incredibly unique and fresh, and when we drop into the moment, 
as meditation allows us to do, we learn how to truly taste this tender and 
mysterious life that we share together."
-- Pema Chodron

Back when I was addicted to cigarettes, I was often haunted by the spectre of New Year's Day arriving.  

Quite often over the years,  I had made QUITTING SMOKING my first New Year's resolution -- and decades of failures shrieked like banshees through my mind as Day One loomed.

It was not a pretty picture.

Now, with a brand new 2018 sparkling across the gleaming white snow outside my window, the scenery of my life has changed substantially.  I haven't smoked a cigarette in years.  

Today, the shrieking banshees have disappeared.  Or, perhaps, they've been transformed into the gleaming white seagulls that I saw this morning pirouetting overhead in the crystalline blue sky.  As I sit here at the laptop, this moment emerges like each moment: unique, complete, and --when I'm really paying attention -- full of beauty, mystery, and wonder. 

I haven't sought to make New Year's resolutions in quite awhile.  

Day by Day  

Although, admittedly, I have made special commitments during Fall Ango for the past few years, my fundamental commitment to Practice seems to have been made long ago.  It informs each and every day.

Today, like most days, l woke up without an alarm.  I did a few simple stretches before I got out of bed, then I cast a Lojong Slogan for the day.  After the usual bathroom ablutions and recycling operations (and, sometimes, a cup of coffee), I returned to the altar, bowed, settled onto the zafu, set the timer, and meditated for an hour.  Towards the end of that hour, I mentally recited the Four Bodhisattva Vows three times, a practice I picked up years ago as I wandered through the world of Zen on my way here.  I then did a few more simple yoga stretches on the zafu before I rose to move into the day. 

Although this may be called a commitment to a regular daily Practice, the True Commitment is deeper than any of these activities and rituals. It emerges as an aspiration that has been ringing silently in my Heart of Hearts for a long, long time, emerging from a place so deep within me that it is beyond me.  I experience it as a simple, heartfelt yearning to be of Service, to be Present to each moment with an open heart, a relaxed and clear mind -- and a helping hand.   (In some circles that is known as Bodhichitta)

Of course, actualizing that aspiration is no easy task.  It takes Practice.  Ceaseless Practice.